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Senior baseball leagues take the field for opening day at East Meadow

Vaseline 2 months ago

Sunday was opening day at East Meadow for the Long Island A’s and the Smithtown Braves, and these ballplayers paid special attention to their stretching and warm-up routines. The average age of the teams in the league is well over 65, so they weren’t taking any chances.

The Braves’ roster includes players with the most advanced ages in the Long Island club of the Men’s Senior Baseball League in Melville, with only four players under 70 and three over 80, according to team manager Ed Capon, 70. And the oldest senior in the league, Capon said, is outfielder Bruce Jaslow, 86, a retired dentist from Old Brookville.

Jaslow says he was invited to try out for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, but had to weigh his chances against a job that would pay for college. He chose the job. He played college ball and took up the game again at the age of 30. Playing at the age of 86, according to Jaslow, “isn’t much different. It’s you and the ball. You have to hit it and catch it.”

The MSBL was founded in 1988 on Long Island and now has 3,200 teams across the country, from Seattle to southern Maine, San Antonio, Texas to Fargo, ND, with 45,000 members, according to its website. The league’s motto is “Don’t Go Soft – Play Hardball!” Long Island teams play at East Meadow High School, the site of Sunday’s game, and other area ballfields, traveling for tournaments in Cooperstown, as well as in Florida and Arizona.

Many players have stayed with their teams and the league for decades. Nelson Cubano, 63, of Selden, who plays for the A’s, has been at it for more than two decades. Fred Schwartz, 76, who lives in Nesconset, has been with the Braves for 30 years.

“There are no scouts or college coaches who can offer you money,” Schwartz said, “so we play for fun.”

Schwartz, who switched to second base when the throw from short became too much, was hit by a pitch in the early innings Sunday and trotted briskly to first base, smiling broadly.

Several players acknowledged that some things have changed as they’ve gotten older. The pace of their play for one, said Tom Kerrigan, 63, a member of the A’s. He played Little League as a kid in Queens and has been competing in the adult league since 1996, when he was in the 30 and up division.

Now, he said, “the game is a little slower.” But it keeps us young, I think.”

Braves third baseman Bob Schneider, 72, said his aspirations as a senior player have changed. “I used to train to get better,” he said. But at his age he said, ‘I’m not going to get better.’

His goal for the season on opening day: “decline slower than everyone else.”

Some things haven’t changed, umpire Kevin Daly said, including the trick of getting on base.

“It’s baseball. You have to hit it where they aren’t.

Another constant of the game: age and wisdom apparently don’t make hitters more complacent about a call that doesn’t go their way.

“That was low and outside,” one Braves hitter grumbled after he fouled out while watching. “Terrible call.”

Still, the players seemed happy to still be playing the game they’ve loved since childhood. Cubano, 63, was born and raised in the South Bronx, near Yankee Stadium. He loved playing as a youngster “and I never stopped playing,” he said. After the spring season is over, he will travel again to an MSBL father-son tournament in Arizona. Last year he attended with his son, 42, and grandson, 18.

The Braves trailed 10-1 in the first half of the 5th Sunday, but the mood in the dugout was no less cheerful.

“We’re not winning much, but we’re having a great time,” Capon said.

Gary Catalanotto, 67, a Braves first baseman, said, “It’s a dream come true that we can still play a boy’s game at our age.”